In California and nationally, survivors of violent crime are more likely to be low-income, younger than 30 and Latino or African-American. At the same time, communities of color have the least access to publicly funded services.
Most impacted by violence, least supported. I know this firsthand.
In 2009, my eldest son was shot 17 times. He survived. Fifteen months later, my bonus son was shot and killed. These devastating experiences showed me many things, including how varied access to services and healing is from person to person, from community to community.
Now, I am an even bolder advocate for transforming our approach to healing and services for survivors. This work takes multiple shapes — answering a text at 1 a.m. from a mom who recently lost a child, talking with elected officials in Sacramento, and working with Californians for Safety and Justice’s network for survivors to lift up voices of crime survivors who for so long have gone ignored, unheard and oftentimes misrepresented.
Today, mental health services and recovery programs are available to survivors through government-run programs. Unfortunately, they are not enough. Most are far removed from communities most impacted by violence — the same communities who want services the most and do not know they exist.
That’s why we need a fundamental switch in gears to invest in healing and recovery work in communities most impacted by crime.
First, we have to innovate how public funding is allocated.
Hundreds of community-based groups across the Golden State — many started by survivors of crime ourselves — are on the front lines providing critical services and support to communities in need.
We go underfunded — or are not funded at all. It’s long overdue that the funding meets us where we are, at our doorstep.
Second, we need to re-imagine what healing looks like and means. We need more programs that do not push one-size-fits-all approaches to healing from trauma.
Third, we need to ensure that culturally and racially competent services are amply available. For many families of color, it’s not only the trauma of the actual event, there is also the trauma and racial bias in how we are treated afterward.
My eldest son was shot in Oakland on a Friday night. I can’t tell you the number of people, including mental health professionals, who asked what he was doing there. The biases attached to him as a young black man rendered him at fault in their eyes.
More than ever, from the media to researchers, from politicians to police chiefs, people are waking up to how a lack of effective resources and services for prevention and rehabilitation increase the likelihood of repeated harm.
As our voices as survivors are centered, we are beginning to see the changes we’ve long deserved. It’s the only way to build safe and just communities for all of us.
Ayoola Mitchell is the Bay Area Chapter Coordinator of Crime Survivors of Safety and Justice, a statewide network that gives survivors of crime a voice in public policy. For more information on CSSJ and Californians for Safety and Justice, visit www.safeandjust.org.